5 Ways the White House Kills It at Content Marketing

By Aaron Taube January 22nd, 2015

Barack Obama’s mastery of the Internet has been evident since 2008, when he won what some call the first “Facebook election” by using social media to generate donations and organize phone banking.

Though the strength of Obama’s initial campaign came from a self-created social networking site and a somewhat primitive use of Facebook (at least by today’s standards), his team has since proved itself adept at creating and distributing compelling content across our fractured media landscape.

For evidence of the White House’s talents for content marketing, look no further than the administration’s online ownership of Tuesday’s State of the Union address, which generated 2.6 million tweets and was discussed by nearly 6 million Facebook users.

Before, during, and after the speech, the Obama team pushed content to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to reiterate the president’s legislative goals and keep citizens engaged.

The White House’s multi-pronged attack serves as a great example of how content marketers can, and should, capitalize on the opportunities presented by web 2.0.

Here are five tips we can take from the Obama administration’s content strategy.

1. Dominate the second screen

According a report issued by Nielsen last year, 84 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices while they watch television. This gives brands the opportunity to use social media either to reinforce the messages they are sending on television or to reel in attention they otherwise would not have gotten.

In the case of the State of the Union, the White House used its Twitter account to underscore important quotes from the speech, aided by photographs or presentation slides when appropriate.

On, the administration aired what it called an “enhanced” broadcast of the speech, in which a live feed of the event was supplemented by visual aides that provided facts and figures on issues like climate change and international trade.

The team then pushed three-minute video chunks of the enhanced broadcast to its 3 million Facebook fans, and posted the videos to the White House YouTube channel, as well.

All of this helped the administration capture viewers’ attention throughout the speech, regardless of whether they were looking at the television in front of them or at the mobile device in their hands.

2. Be accessible

One way to keep people coming back to your brand is to make them feel like your interactions are part of a conversation rather than a monologue.

In the hours leading up to the speech, the White House made an appeal to transparency by releasing the president’s prepared remarks on Medium. This gave regular folks the sense that Obama was communicating his message to them directly, rather than leaving them with the feeling that he was speaking only to members of Congress.

Today, he will continue the conversation by doing an interview with YouTube stars Bethany Mota, GloZell Green, and Hank Green, during which the popular creators will be able to ask him questions submitted by their fans.

Finally, the White House has encouraged citizens to share their feedback on the president’s legislative agenda on social media using the hashtag #SOTU.

3. Give people something to snack on

With a nearly infinite number of entertainment and information options available on the web, there’s no guarantee that you will have someone’s attention for an extended period of time.

That’s why it’s important to feed your audience a steady diet of shortform content they can consume in whatever time they happen to have available, whether they’re browsing Tumblr during a short break at work or checking their Facebook feeds while on line at the grocery store.

The White House regularly updates its social media feeds with photos and short videos—like this nine-second clip promoting an upcoming event with West Wing star Martin Sheen—that remind people of the issues at hand without requiring them to burrow into a 5,000-word policy document.

4. Collaborate with people your audience cares about

From the very beginning of his first presidential campaign, Obama has burnished his image by receiving endorsements from a wide array of celebrities. In the process, he’s provided one of the few obvious answers to the question, “What do Philip Roth and Hulk Hogan have in common?”

During the 2012 election, he teamed up with Girls creator Lena Dunham for a humorous, polarizing YouTube video endorsing his candidacy. Later, the president himself would appear opposite Zach Galifianakis on an episode of the Funny or Die video series “Between Two Ferns” to tell people how they could sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

In both cases, Obama’s team worked with influential people to deliver the president’s message to the celebrity’s fans, rather than hoping those fans would come to on their own.

While your brand might not have its choice of A-listers willing to pitch in, partnering with a celebrity your target demographic cares about is a great way to expand your audience.

5. Understand that no two platforms are exactly alike

Anyone looking to be successful creating content for the web needs to grasp how people look for different things when they visit different platforms.

For instance, a series of artsy photographs people would appreciate on Instagram wouldn’t play nearly as well on career-focused LinkedIn.

To that end, the Obama administration has always been smart about creating content that is native to the platform it is being distributed on. When he did a Q&A on Reddit, he won over the forum’s potentially hostile community members by closing with a reference to one of their most popular inside jokes.

And while the White House primarily posts photos and videos on its Facebook and Twitter feeds, its Tumblr account is peppered with the GIFs that are popular on the platform. Meanwhile, the administration’s LinkedIn presence is all business, featuring brass tacks policy analysis from senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.

No matter what your message is, it’s important to tailor your execution to the platform you are delivering it on. The Obama administration gets it, and content marketers should take notes no matter their political persuasion.

Image by Charlie Riedel
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